Finding certainty in uncertain times by living the ministry's mission

July 1, 2013

2013-2014 chairperson
CHA Board of Trustees
President and chief executive officer
St. Joseph Health, Irvine, Calif.

"Living Mission in a Changing World," the theme of this year's Catholic Health Assembly, is not what we fear, but what we embrace. It is our prophetic call. We have never shied away and will not in the future.

Each organization in CHA is steeped in stories of the sisters or brothers who faced much great change with strong spirits. My own organization celebrates the undaunted courage of Mother St. John Fontbonne, who, having witnessed many of her sisters perish at the French Revolution's guillotine, still continued her work. Later, she arranged for the unthinkable and sent a small group to the shores of pioneer America. We are truly blessed by the wisdom, courage and vision that are the tradition of our founders.

It is not change that worries us. For the past decade we have advocated for the transformation of health care. And, if you look at our most recent issues of Health Progress and Catholic Health World, we are raising our united voices to ensure the sanctity of life, prevent violence and fight for justice for those at the margins. Our voices make visible the plight of immigrants, the burden of returning veterans and the loneliness of the dying.

What worries us is uncertainty, which is change's constant traveling companion. Will reimbursement cuts threaten our survival? Will new partnerships strengthen our business but weaken our identity? Will the reform we advocated positively impact those who need it the most? Sometimes, the only certainty is that we will be challenged, we will wrestle with hard choices, and we will make mistakes.

As author and consultant Margaret Wheatley wrote, "Times of upheaval bring us the potential for new beginnings born from the loss of treasured pasts, the grief of dreams dying with the exhilaration of what now might be, the impotence and rage of failed ideals and the power of new aspirations." This is health care leadership's call today. Each of us is living the mission in a changing world. Catholic health care providers are driven by the social teachings of the Catholic Church to respect human dignity, pay attention to the poor and vulnerable, steward resources, act on behalf of justice, and ensure the common good.

Pope Benedict XVI said, "The call for church organizations is to work with full commitment and with a heart which sees where love is needed and acts accordingly." We must see where love is needed, whether in Moore, Okla., or Port- au-Prince, Haiti, where rebuilding is not a choice but a mandate.

Once we see where love is needed, we must live with deep faith. One of the most illustrative examples of uncertainty is the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were so bewildered by the crucifixion and absence of Jesus in the tomb, they did not realize the risen Christ was walking with them. In times of uncertainty, Jesus sneaks up on us and calls us to lead faith-filled lives that trust in all we have been promised.

I love the Haitian prayer, "Lord, there is a big devil called discouragement. We ask you to send him away because he is bothering us." Its honesty reminds us that we need to ask and, once we ask, we live with faith.

Even though we see with love and live with faith, we often need great courage. Reading the signs of the times and integrating this understanding with our theological foundations is demanding work. It calls for the prophetic and the counter cultural. It calls for decisiveness when decisions without discernment may cause great pain.

This is a time when people might like to divide us. Some have tried to create a rift between CHA and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Others have suggested we are too close to the government. We must heed the call for solidarity: Church to church ministries, church ministries to the government, healers to wounded. There is so much that can be done more effectively together.

At the same time, we must walk humbly with God. This spring, Pope Francis displayed inspirational and unconventional humility when he chose to wash the feet of young prisoners on Holy Thursday, one a Muslim woman. This simple act of humility and service reminded us, as Catholic leaders, that we must remain humble, choose inclusion over exclusion, and, ultimately, know that we are all God's servants. Humility is a never ending journey of learning.

And finally, ours is a call to service. Across any situation, the common good propels us. It requires us to advocate through partnership and reminds us that community will advance heaven and earth. It reinforces that health care offers an opportunity for sacred encounters, where, as my good friend and mentor Jack Glaser said, "People go away from such an encounter more healed, more whole, more able to live, to love and to die."

While others may drown in worry, let us, the people of Catholic health care celebrate that we face these times with an abundance of gifts which are an endless source of strength. Let us celebrate our heritage of spiritual leadership:

  • A heritage which has always been willing to be surprised
  • A heritage which has been willing to be comforted and challenged in uncertain times
  • A heritage which is ours to live now, in our time

Let us see where love is needed. Let us walk humbly. Let us have faith. Let us lead courageously.


Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.